This week brought two big announcements that may change the way you stream TV shows and movies. First was the release of the iOS 4.2.1 software update, which brought AirPlay front and center among the big feature improvements for iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad users. Initially, AirPlay makes the most sense for Apple TV owners (now a scant $99), who can now play movies, music and photos from their handheld devices to their TV—but it really seems like we’re on the cusp of a revolution in terms of streaming media (that scooping sound you heard was the Internet shoveling another spade of dirt onto Blockbuster’s grave). But last night, all of us Netflix users received an email notifying us that our monthly rates were going up.
Why? Because Netflix is putting both its feet into the streaming game, which means any of us who still watch DVDs are going to have to pay a $1 per DVD monthly premium. That is, if you were on the $8.99 plan (one disc out and unlimited streaming), you’re going to $9.99 next month. If you were on the $16.99 plan (three discs) then your bill jumps to $19.99. Meanwhile, if you want to go full on digital “Instant Play” only, then you can pay as little as $7.99 a month.
At first blush, you might view this rate hike as a tax on stubborn luddites, who’d rather watch the more costly (to Netflix, that is) DVD version of feature films and TV series. But it’s really not like that at all. That’s because Netflix’s Instant Play library is fairly incomplete. While it has grown immensely in the past few quarters with a few new partnerships, it is bound to grow even more now that Netflix considers itself “primarily a streaming video company,” for now, I’ve found that Netflix’s Instant Play streaming library is rife with god awful movies sprinkled with a few classic gems and an occasional mainstream feature film that hit theaters that year. For all of the 20,000 or so titles that Netflix Instant Play boasts, a lot of them are just unwatchable—1 and 2 star flicks that might be fun to watch with a couple of sarcastic friends, but nothing you can really get invested in.
Granted, I am, and will likely remain, a devoted Netflix fan. They do have some excellent series on tap, albeit none of them are particularly timely. I got to catch up on all seasons of 30 Rock (and it’s short-lived dramatic counterpart “Studio 60 in the Sunset Strip”) and enjoyed reviewing every episode of Futurama. I also got to check out some lesser known titles that I might not have found time to DVR, such as Louie, Things with Demetri Martin and lots of other great standup and comedy shows.
Cutting the Cable: Hulu Plus vs. Netflix
With all the above being said, I don’t see Netflix as a viable replacement for cable TV.
For that, you might want to look at Hulu Plus.
And although Netflix released it’s streaming only plan in Canada few months back, the elephant in the room that everyone is talking about is obviously Hulu Plus. It’s no coincidence that Netflix’s streaming only option came out shortly after Hulu Plus dropped its rate to $7.99. Now with Netflix offering a streaming only tier, it’s essentially an invitation for apples-to-apples comparisons.
Personally, I haven’t tried Hulu Plus. But from what I’ve experienced on the free version of Hulu, Netflix really has something to worry about—and this latest move proves that they are. That’s because Hulu has more relevant shows, hands-down. Hulu is already the go-to place for when devoted TV junkies miss an episode of Glee, 30 Rock or Modern Family. But Hulu Plus also serves up an astounding array of reality TV shows as well. With Hulu Plus, you get access to every episode of the current season for a dozen or so highly popular TV shows. That’s a big deal—especially around the water cooler. If it were me (a Netflix guy), a Hulu Plus subscriber and a cable TV watcher standing around chatting about TV, I wouldn’t even be a part of the conversation. They’d be talking about the latest episode of Glee, while I’d be reminiscing about Firefly.
Currently, both Hulu Plus and Netflix have a decent offering of supported devices, with Netflix just barely nudging Hulu Plus out with its Wii app. But I see this gap closing fairly quickly, especially with AirPlay looming as a new standard for streaming media.
At any rate, I’m probably sticking with Netflix, though I do see Hulu Plus as offering some distinct advantages over the Netflix streaming only option. My reasons are personal. I’m more of a movies and documentaries kinda guy rather than a TV series kind of guy, so it’s important for me to have that absolutely vast selection of DVDs, as well as Netflix’s still admirable back catalog of older titles available for Instant Play. But as streaming TV continues to further displace cable and broadcast TV, Hulu Plus looks to be the better option for those looking to give Comcast or FiOS the boot.
Hulu Plus vs. Netflix Comparison
Bottom-line: Netflix wins in the back catalog territory. But for immediacy, go with Hulu Plus.
Why not just get both Hulu Plus and Netflix Streaming + One DVD out at a time? At approximately $19 it’s hardly breaking the bank and significantly cheaper than cable. The only downfall is no way to stream any premium channel content (HBO, Showtime, etc.) without subscribing to cable. I’m sure they’ll get around to it eventually though.